Greenpeace has released a new report that lays out the pathway for an energy sector powered by 100% renewable energy.
Greenpeace published the latest edition of its Energy [R]evolution report this week, the latest in a series dating back to 2005. Greenpeace is very proud of the predictions found within its Energy [R]evolution series, and understandably so. While the predictions “may once have seemed fanciful or unrealistic, they have proved to be accurate,” the global environmental NGO wrote. In fact, according to US-based Meister Consultants Group, “the world’s biggest energy agencies, financial institutions and fossil fuel companies for the most part seriously under-estimated just how fast the clean power sector could and would grow.”
It wasn’t the IEA, Goldman Sachs or the US Department of Energy who got it right. It was Greenpeace’s market scenario which was the most accurate.
Now, in its latest edition, Greenpeace’s experts have concluded that “The investment necessary to move towards 100% renewable energy by 2050 would be more than covered by future savings in fuel costs.”
“The phase out of fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy is not only needed, but can be achieved globally by mid-century,” said Greenpeace USA Climate and Energy Campaign Director Kelly Mitchell. “In the US, we must prioritize keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground while accelerating the transition to clean energy like wind and solar. Doing so would both create new jobs and ensure a healthier planet for future generations.”
The full 364-page report is available here (PDF), but there are some key takeaways that are worth pointing out here.
Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution scenarios are definitely both forward thinking and ambitious — which in turn demands a lot of ambition from the renewable energy industry. But these forecasts have been rewarded, with the growth of renewable energy the world over surpassing all expectation. However, Greenpeace still believes a “fundamental shift in the way we consume and generate energy must begin immediately and be well underway before 2020 in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change.” Renewable energy sources accounted for 12% of the world’s primary energy demand in 2012 — a figure which will only have grown over the past two and a half years — with biomass and hydro providing the lion’s share (though used primarily for heating and transport, “but increasingly in the power sector as well”).
For electricity generation specifically, renewable energy is contributing about 21% (as well as 21% for heating supply), with solar PV and wind increasing their market share, inching ever-closer to the massive lead hydropower has on everyone. The two Energy [R]evolution scenarios “describe development pathways to a sustainable energy supply, achieving the urgently needed CO2 reduction target and a nuclear phaseout, without unconventional oil resources.”
First and foremost, energy must be used wisely, due to the expected increase in energy demand — which according to Greenpeace’s Reference scenario, “combining the projections on population development, GDP growth, and energy intensity,” will increase by 65% by 2050. This demand can be modified by adherence to one of the two Energy [R]evolution scenarios, but a lot of work will be required to get there.
Nevertheless, electricity demand is expected to increase no matter what is done and no matter how efficient technology and generation gets. One of the primary reasons for this growth in electricity demand, however, is Greenpeace’s desire for electricity to replace fuel — affecting both the transport and heating industries.
Renewable energy generation must increase, with the vaunted 100% renewable energy future appearing in Greenpeace’s Advanced Scenario (the basic scenario sees 92% by 2050). Cost of electricity generation will increase under both scenarios, however “this difference in full cost of generation will be minor with around 0.2 US$ cent/kWh in both the basic E[R] and the 100% renewables Advanced scenario.” However, this is offset when you consider the already-visible increasing costs of conventional fuels. Total electricity supply costs in the Reference scenario increase from $2.06 trillion per year to more than $5.35 trillion in 2050, but drop 19% in the basic scenario ($4.3 trillion less) and $6.2 trillion worth of savings by 2050 in the Advanced scenario.
“The solar- and wind industries have come of age, and are cost-competitive with coal,” said Sven Teske of Greenpeace, the lead author of the report. “It is very likely they will overtake the coal industry in terms of jobs and energy supplied within the next decade.”
“It’s the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry to prepare for these changes in the labour market and make provisions. Governments need to manage the dismantling of the fossil fuel industry which is moving rapidly into irrelevance,” Teske added. “Every dollar invested in new fossil fuel projects is high risk capital which might end up as stranded investment.”
Greenpeace calculates that an investment of around $48 trillion is required for the Energy [R]evolution scenarios to become a reality, which is approximately $1.23 trillion per year — around 50% more than the Reference scenario (current trends). The Advanced scenario is, unsurprisingly, a little more expensive, coming in at $64.4 trillion by 2050, or around $1.66 trillion per year. For comparison, Greenpeace calculates in its Reference case that existing investment is around $24.5 trillion, and when you take into account the $39 trillion in savings in fuel costs (gone with a shift towards renewable energy), the extra investment required is more than made up for in fuel savings.
December will see world leaders gather in Paris for the UN climate summit, and big agreements are going to be required. Greenpeace pegs the average additional investment needed in renewables at about $1 trillion a year until 2050. However, while that is a phenomenal figure, Greenpeace is quick to remind that the savings in a non-fuel renewable energy future is around $1.07 trillion a year.
“With this Greenpeace scenario, the Paris climate agreement must deliver a long-term vision for phasing out coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy by mid-century, reaching the goal of 100% renewables with energy access for all,” said Kumi Naidoo.
“The new Energy [R]evolution 2015 clearly shows that the renewable energy revolution is underway, and it’s unstoppable,” said Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council. “The question the politicians in Paris need to answer is: Will they help make it happen in time to save the climate?”
“We must not let lobbying by vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way of a switch to renewable energy, the most effective and fairest way to deliver a clean and safe energy future, to more than meet the costs of the investment,” said Kumi Naidoo, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “I would urge all those who say ‘it can’t be done’ to read this report and recognise that it can be done, it must be done and it will be for the benefit of everyone if it is done.”